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British author and poet Rudyard Kipling once said, "Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet." I agree that West is West, but I think Kipling was only half right.

In terms of politics, social outlook, and philosophy, the West is tremendously homogenous. Geert Hofstede, a leading authority on how countries and cultures vary, shows that most of the countries in the West are generally similar especially when it comes to individualism, a social framework in which individuals are expected to take care of themselves and their immediate families only. The USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and countries in Western Europe share similar forms of government and economic structures, and they share an intertwined history.

The East, on the other hand, shows massive variations. In addition to several major religions (Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Shinto, Daoism and many more), the East is home to many languages with different roots and representations.

The nature of law, government, and family vary considerably between the countries of the East. For example, some countries have embraced capitalism, while some others have largely rejected it. None of the countries in the East score highly on individualism, but this reflects the homogeneity within the West (where all the countries are highly indvidualistic) rather a similarity within the East.

In my opinion, East is much more than East -- and market researchers who think in terms of 'the East' will risk stumbling if they interpret and implement research that is based solely on findings from the West.

Recently, I ran a workshop on advanced quantitative research at ESOMAR 'Best Of' India event. Later this month, I am also presenting at the ESOMAR APAC conference in Vietnam about insight communities in Asia Pacific and at the ESOMAR 'Best Of' event in Tokyo about the specific implications of utilising insight communities in Japan. Here are four lessons about implementing market research in the East that I have or will share at these conferences:

  1. Verify and modify techniques.

    Remember that what we refer to as "the East" is actually a collection of many different countries and cultures. A technique that works in one country may not work in others. Do not assume that what worked in India or Japan will work in exactly the same way in China. Be prepared to learn from people who have already used the techniques and who can share their experience with you.

  2. Localize.

    Few marketing professionals truly grasp the many differences in the East. Finding somebody who understands the South Korean market is not difficult, but finding someone who grasps Bangladesh, South Korea, and China is rare.

    As I mentioned in my ESOMAR presentations, working with local partners ensures that an insight community is properly created, managed, and utilized. Another strategy that we are pursuing is to open local offices.

  3. Expect different interpretations.

    There are places in the East where contradictory truths appear to be held at the same time. What counts as evidence or "proof" in the West may not apply in the East. Western 'proof' is a culturally located concept derived from ancient Greece, and is mostly a Western way of thinking. In other cultures, different forms of thinking may apply.

  4. Anticipate social concepts to impact research techniques and results.

    Concepts such as family, equality before the law, and individuality differ markedly from country to country and they can impact your study. Individual in-depth interviews have a different context in countries where the individual is seen as a coherent unit compared to a culture where people do not see themselves as individuals. Many studies have highlighted different use of scales between one country and another, with some cultures more likely to use mid-points and some more likely to use the extreme ends.

As you can see, East is not exactly East. Doing market research in this part of the world can be complex, but with careful planning and implementation, companies can gain valuable insights that will help their businesses grow.

For more on international insight communities, please listen to the recording of my 2012 VCU presentation. On Friday, April 12, Vision Critical is also presenting a complimentary event in Tokyo about this topic. The event, "Insight Communities: The New Age of Market Research in Japan," will cover All Nippon Airways' WEB Strategy and Community and will include presentations from:

  • Yoshinobu Maeda, Department of Market Communication, All Nippon Airways
  • Bruce Wells, Managing Director and President, Asia, Vision Critical
  • Ray Poynter, Director, Vision Critical University

To attend this Vision Critical Tokyo event, please RSVP by Thursday, 11 April.

What are your views about market research in the East? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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